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feature By: Matt Dedrick | March, 23
In June 1885, the Thomas C. Orndorff Company supplied the NWMP with 200 Mills woven web cartridge belts at a cost of $1.52 each. An initial group of 50 belts had 30 loops for the .45-75 rifle cartridge with 15 loops for the .476 revolver cartridge. The second group of 150 belts had loops for 35 of the .45-75 rifle cartridges. The belts were a wide, woven web with cartridge loops for the rifle cartridges woven into the body of the belt.1 The revolver cartridge loops, in existing photos appear to be an appliqué sewn and riveted to the belt. The brass plate used to secure the belt ends is plain and unmarked. Indeed, this lack of any insignia or device is inferred by Orndorff’s offer to make a special belt plate with the NWMP insignia if 1,000 or more belts were ordered.4 From photographs, the belt plate is the 4th pattern2 most often encountered with a dog’s head in an oval in the center of civilian trade belts, and “U.S.” on belts made for the U.S. military.
There does not appear to be a provision for a holster on the belt. The included photo shows the holster was worn over the rifle loops – which appear to contain cartridges under the holster. The holsters used with the Anson Mills belt must have been modified to accommodate the wide belt. (Perhaps holsters so modified still exist in a collection somewhere?) The NWMP constable, in the photograph, wears the belt with the .476 revolver loops on the right side, with the revolver holster on the left in a cross-draw arrangement.
The belts were distributed through the divisions with 16 on hand in Quarter Master stores at Battleford in March 1891.1 Their use by the NWMP is evident from the photograph. However, problems with the belts do not seem to be noted. They were not available for use in the Riel Rebellion of 1885.3
The Anson Mills cartridge belt shown in the following photographs appears to be one of the 2nd variant pattern belts, with the extra rifle cartridge loops. This particular belt was obtained near Melita, Manitoba. It is in virtually new condition and appears unused. It is of light olive/tan, woven construction, with rolled edges to the main belt body and 35 rifle cartridge loops woven into the belt. There are loops for 15 revolver cartridges, woven into an appliqué strip that is sewn to the belt adjoining the rolled edge. Four copper rivets also secure the appliqué corners. The ends of the appliqué are turned under to prevent unraveling. The ends of the belt itself are finished with narrow canvas edging sewn to the belt to prevent fraying or unraveling. There are two copper grommets along the edge of one end of the belt. These are spaced 3 inches apart just inside the rolled edge, directly below the appliqué revolver cartridge loops, 9½ inches from the end of the belt. These copper grommets may be explained by a letter from Orndorff to the NWMP, in 1885, in which he notes the NWMP did not provide specific instructions as to provisions for a holster, so he had installed two grommets, from which to hang a holster in the manner used by the U.S. military.3
The belt plate is brass, 2¾ inches wide by 31⁄8 inches high, of the fourth pattern noted for military and civilian use circa 1887.2 However, since it is totally unmarked with the usual Anson Mills/T.C. Orndorff stamp and patent date, the belt plate must be from an earlier date. There is no insignia and apart from the edge (border) pattern, it is devoid of any markings. This matches the photo of the Mills belt worn by the NWMP constable.
The belt itself is 42 inches long, 3 inches wide with rolled edges. Again, the rolled edge can be seen in the photograph. It is also mentioned in the letter from Orndorff to the force as being put on the belts as it made a more finished appearance.3 The cartridge loops are woven into the belt, as are the revolver cartridge loops in the appliqué strip used for the revolver cartridges. It appears the loops were made for a large rifle cartridge, as the top of the rifle cartridge loops are larger than the bottom of the loops. (The “top” being the part of the loop at the rolled edge of the belt, the “bottom” being near the center.)
To compare loop size, the cartridge loops on a Model 1881 pattern, U.S. Army woven cartridge belt were measured. These belts were woven by Orndorff for the .45 Government cartridge (.45-70). Though used, this belt was in very good condition with little wear to the loops. The results were - see cartridge loops table.
As the rifle loops appear larger than .45-70 Government cartridges, original .45-70 Government and .45-75 W.C.F. cartridges were tested in the loops. The .45-70 Government cartridges were an easy fit. The .45-75 cartridge was a snug fit. This seems to indicate the loops are intended for a cartridge similar to the .45-75 W.C.F. used by the NWMP The cartridge loops on the appliqué strip fit both the .455 and .45 Colt cartridges. The .476 revolver cartridge would likewise fit.
In looking at the photograph of the Anson Mills belt on the NWMP constable, it is apparent that cartridge belt is the same as the specimen examined. It appears, however, that the NWMP constable is wearing the belt upside down. The cartridge loop tops are in the center of the belt – the .45-75 cartridges are protruding by about 1⁄3 their overall length – probably because Orndorff’s looms produced a slightly smaller bottom to the loop – and the .45-75 case is a tight fit as used.
If this belt is, as I believe, the second variant Anson Mills cartridge belt of the NWMP, it is a unique specimen. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum does not have a specimen, nor does it appear any documented similar belts exist. In a telephone conversation with Don Klancher,3 the noted NWMP historian, he remarked that no Mills belt plates have been found at any of the excavations of former NWMP posts. In commenting on this absence, he noted the NWMP practice of burning old gear and tackle and disposing of metal portions – often by dumping them down a disused well or similar refuse pit.
Were the cartridge belts recalled to Depot Division and destroyed? If so, few will remain. It is likely – and hoped – that other specimens do exist, perhaps having NWMP provenance. I would certainly like to hear from anyone with similar Anson Mills cartridge belts, or an unmarked 4th pattern Anson Mills belt plate.
Credit to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum for the photograph of NWMP constable, reproduced with their permission. Matt Dedrick wishes to acknowledge the kind assistance of Don Klancher in providing background details on the Orndorff – NWMP correspondence. Any interpretation of the data or its accuracy remain Dedrick’s responsibility.
1. Arms and Accoutrements of the Mounted Police, 1873-1973, Roger F. Phillips, Donald J. Klancher, Mus. Rest. Serv., 1982
2. Packing Iron – Gunleather of the Frontier West, R.C. Rattenbury, Zon International Publishing Company, Millwood, N.Y., 1993
3. A telephone conversation with Donald J. Klancher in 2002, regarding Mills belts of the NWMP.
4. American Military Belts and Related Equipments, R. Stephen Dorsey, Pioneer Press, Union City, Tennessee, 1984
5. The Development of the Mills Woven Cartridge Belt, William P. Wise and Albert A. Lethern, N.D., 1959